Prelude: The Rose
Ch 1. God the Giver
Miroslav Volf begins this book about “giving and forgiving in a culture stripped of grace” by telling a moving true story of adoption. He speaks of a change in his heart when the birth mom of his oldest son gives him and his wife the gift of her child. Adoption has turned my life upside down, too. My path was not paved, as the author’s, with infertility. Yet I can relate deeply with the questions of faith, prayer, and God’s character with which he wrestled.
After his own story he moves into a classic story called The Little Prince. He speaks of the Rose the Little Prince cares for.
“”People where you live,” the little prince said to his pilot friend, “grow five thousand roses in one garden… yet they don’t find what they’re looking for… And yet what they’re looking for could be found in a single rose…” And he added, “But eyes are blind. You have to look with the heart.””
He expounds on the concept with the following lines:
“For the heart to see rightly, the hand needs to give generously. That’s the deeper wisdom the little prince goes on to reveal.”
The initial reason I felt compelled to read this book was the suddenly realization that my personal assumptions regarding reciprocity in relationships may be erroneous and damaging. Growing in generosity, I feel, will combat previous tendencies and lead me into a greatly needed freedom.
The first chapter brings up two common ways we relate with God. One way is to view God as a Negotiator. The other is to treat God like Santa Claus.
When we negotiate with God we wrongfully assume that we have anything to offer the God who made everything and therefore has everything. We insult God when we tell him we will give him such-and-such if He will do such-and-such for us. This is also played out when we feel an obligation to repay God for His goodness with some sort of offering or sacrifice.
This is challenging for me. Just the other day a friend said she wanted to offer her services as a dentist to us free of charge and I insisted that I needed to pay her or at least give her something for her generosity. She sounded hurt. She just wanted to give me something because she wanted to be generous. This is the same thing I do with God sometimes. I see that He has been good to me so I then feel obligated to pray longer, read more of the bible, or behave better. All the while God wants to give to me just because He is good. Anything I would try to offer Him by way of time or resources has already been given to me as a gift. Attempting to give it back to Him is actually unkind and ungrateful.
The other tendency is to treat God as a Santa Claus, demanding nothing from us.
“A divine Santa is the indiscriminately giving and inexhaustible fertile source of everything that is, and everything that is to come our way. God is an inexhaustibly fertile source of everything. But is it true that God demands nothing?”
Such a great question! At first I wanted to revolt and say, “Wait, you just spent many pages convincing us that God gives out of the generosity of His heart. Now you want to turn the tables and tell us that these gifts were not given freely?” These thoughts urged me to read the rest of the chapter.
At this point I would love to include large chucks of the writing to help you see the beautiful pattern of thought. By a close look at the end of Romans chapter 11 and the beginning of Romans chapter 12 we see God the giver obliging a response from us. Volf introduces us to a bridge:
“What then is this sacrifice that is neither a gift nor a counter-gift to God? To what do God’s gifts oblige us and why? Let’s explore these questions step by step, starting seemingly from afar. As we proceed, a contour of a bridge between our selfishness and our God-based giving will emerge.”
Faith – “… we are not independent of God but are living on a given breath. … To receive from God in faith is the height of human dignity. … faith doesn’t tell us how little we are and what we can’t do. On the contrary, it celebrates what we most properly are – God’s empowered creatures – and it frees us to our greatest accomplishments.”
Gratitude – “Faith receives God’s gifts as gifts; gratitude receives them well. … God’s gifts establish. They come with the message, “You are loved, and therefore you exist.””
Availability – “We can’t give anything back to God, not even ourselves, since we were never our own in the first place. We live and breathe and have our being in God. The most we can do is to make ourselves available for God to be used as instruments. … Today most of us want to be agents, not instruments. We want to act, not be acted upon…”
Participation – “Our giving is, as it were, an echo of his. That’s where the idea of the “indwelling Christ” comes in. … Christ’s indwelling presence has freed us from exclusive orientation to ourselves and opened us up in two directions: towards God, to receive the good things in faith, and toward our neighbor, to pass them on in love.”
The closing line of this chapter excites me and frees me to revel in the gifts God gives and freely give to those around me.
“When a gift is given, life becomes extraordinary because God’s own gift giving flows through the giver.”
If you are a part of this online book club I would love to hear your thoughts. Why not add your favorite quotes on the facebook page? Or you could comment after this blog, however extensively or succinctly you care to, about how the beginning of this book has impacted you. If you have a blog of your own you could write there and share the link here in the comments or on facebook.
The idea is to finish reading this book together by the end of February so that we can stay focused on the ideas being presented and not become forgetful by stringing out the reading. I brought this to a public format to keep me accountable to grow because I really feel like these ideas are important for my life at this time. Thanks for reading my blog, even if you are not reading the book. I hope that some of what you have seen here today has been encouraging and brought freedom to you.